I baked cookies for the baseball team in high school. I managed the varsity team for three years, and at first, I hardly spoke to any of the players. I was so shy that even these very sweet teenage boys were too intimidating for me. At some point though, I realized that it is less scary to hand someone food than it is to speak up in front of them, so I started baking cookies. I loved the process of flour, butter, and sugar melding into shortbread, thumbprint, or classic chocolate chip cookies that I could then hand over to someone else as a symbol of my affection. I eventually gained the ability to interact with the team, but I kept baking cookies. Cooking acted as this process of service and kindness: I spent time in the kitchen, and ended up with a conduit to show others how much I cared for them.
During college, I moved away from any kind of ease with cooking. I spent my first two years in a dorm and then a sorority house, and sharing a kitchen with thirty other people quickly stopped my interest in drawn-out culinary projects. Even after I moved in with a few friends for junior and senior year, I still used the kitchen as a sort of placeholder, meant for sustaining myself until I could get more exciting things from restaurants or bakeries.
In March, I moved back home. Sometime, between feeling hopeless, useless, and cast adrift, I found my way back to the kitchen. Within the constant virtual experiences, I relished watching raw ingredients transform in the pan; eggs losing translucence while onions gained it, spinach and kale shrinking to almost nothing, pasta yielding its hardness when submerged in salty water.
This time though, I wasn’t cooking for others like I had before. I would sometimes take over from my mother and cook dinner for the family, but most of my culinary endeavors were for myself. The kind of turmoil caused by a global pandemic can’t be dealt with using my normal coping skills, but cooking developed into this way of caring for myself, showing kindness to myself. I couldn’t control anything happening out in the world, but I could practice my knife skills, test different seasoning blends, experiment with homemade pasta.
Since March, I’ve eaten a lot of scrambled eggs, but I’ve also made cinnamon scones, miso soup, and cherry pie from scratch. I’m still working on my grocery lists, knowing that on some days I might be trying to perfect my cacio e pepe while on others, all I feel like doing is stuffing a frozen pizza into the oven. They can both be versions of self-kindness, and both remind me of the girl I was in high school – manifesting care into sustenance.
Ellie is a recent graduate from Cornell University and current administrator at a historic house museum on Cape Cod. She has spent quarantine getting flour on various items of clothing.